Added disclaimer: Despite any ideas the title might give you, there is much saltyness ahead.
The state of things
At this time, I feel there are three factions clearly ahead of the pack – Cygnar, Circle and Retribution. They have answers to (or are) the main boogeymen in the game, and have multiple casters to make a caster pair from.
Additionally, they can develop multiple playing styles on a meta-strategic level, as in, multiple roads to achieve victory. Within a list, or within the faction1.
The second group hang in there, mostly by virtue of one caster. I might be selling Menoth short when I say they are only part of the fun thanks to High Reclaimer, but for Minions (Rask) and Khador (Karchev) I don’t think I am wrong.
The exception here would be Mercenaries, who have Ossrum, but who don’t rely on him to be competitive, with other options like Magnus2, variations to Kingmaker, and Cephalyx.
These factions have answers, have boogeymen, but their choice of casters and ways to achieve victory is more narrow.
Post-errata, Khador clearly fell off the wagon, and when it comes to Minions, it remains to be seen whether they can stay ahead of the third group, which is … the sad group: Trolls, Cryx, Legion, Convergence and Skorne.
The sad group
The sad group all have plenty of fun options, when playing against other members of the sad group. When facing the real boogeymen, they just come up short. I haven’t seen or heard from a list that gives Cryx a 50% game into Cygnar, be it Haley2, Sloan or Stormlance spam. I haven’t seen or heard about a list that gives Trolls a 50% game into heavy control lists, be it Haley2 or Wurmwood2.
Additionally, and this is what makes the sad group extra sad – they don’t have multiple approaches to the game.
It’s most clear in Trolls, as very aptly put forward by the guys on the Moot Point podcast: they play too fair a game. Trolls don’t stop their opponent from doing anything. Both players do what they do, and the Troll player just hopes to come out on top.
This is problematic, because strategy games revolve around … well … playing unfairly. Applying a larger part of your force to a smaller part of your opponent’s force, leaving them to fight your entire army with only a part of theirs.
Trolls can’t really do that. They have no cloud walls, no control feats, no devastating shooting options, they … just hope you can’t kill them fast enough. I know, I’m selling the faction short, but … Too often, when playing against the first tier of factions, the game revolves around: “Can you kill me?” 3
The thing is, that used to be the case in MK2 as well. The only reason Trolls were competitive back then, is because, well, people generally couldn’t kill them. Three ARM 22 (or 23 on Mulg) heavies behind Janissa’s wall, weapon master Warders at ARM21 with 8 boxes and tough, that kind of stuff. Add a guaranteed alpha with Burrowers, and you had a game.
In Mk3, PP removed the worst options (probably for the best of the game), but put nothing in return. The little alternative options Trolls had (Grissel1, mainly) got nerfed into oblivion.
With Cryx, the problem is different, but it’s still about core faction design. In Mk2, Cryx thrived by playing outside the game. Bringing an infantry spam was not only the best way to use their points, it also had the added benefit of asking a specific question your opponent needed to be prepared for.
In Mk3, Cryx are being forced to play the same game as everyone else. Well … turns out they are bad at that. What a shocker.
Legion seem to have the same problem. Their faction design just doesn’t fit with the current reality any more. They too used to thrive on playing a different game than the rest did4, but most of that is gone now. Sandpapering, hit-and-run games, … just don’t work any more. I feel that from the sad group, they’re the least bad, but I could be wrong.
The recent errata did nothing to alleviate the sad group’s problems. Yes, they nerfed Mad Dogs, and Karchev, and some other ‘jacks that didn’t deserve it. Meanwhile, you can shoot Haley2 now, Caine2 and Ossyan became “unplayable trash”, and they even nerfed Wurmwood and Sentry Stones! Such wow.
My main source of salt isn’t even that High Reclaimer, Una2 or Storm Lances remained untouched, it’s the fact that PP doesn’t even seem to understand the core, underlying issue. On the contrary, they gave Trolls Horgle2. More ARM skew, more tough skew. But he sets things on fire, isn’t that great?
The rest of the sad group
I don’t know enough about Convergence to say anything meaningful about them, but being a mini-faction seems to be the major issue. I’m not sure whether the design team at PP really wants to develop them into a real faction, or still sees them as “that stupid side project we have to make models for now”. The easiest way to resolve this issue seems to make them a sub-faction of another faction (much like Cephalyx are), but I have too little knowledge of their fluff to know which faction that could be.
Finally, Skorne. My guess is that the reason why PP dropped the ball so much on them is lack of popularity. Whether that’s with the design team or with the play testers is rather irrelevant, truth is, they were far from ready to be released. Still, as a faction, they seem to have the necessary variation of options and play styles to play the game. Therefore, I have hopes for them to become at least a second tier faction again.
As a conclusion, I think MK3 came far too early. As a core game, it seems all right6, but over a third of the factions were unprepared for the new reality. For the entire sad group, a hard look needs to be taken at how they approach the game, at how these factions create a winning situation. I understand that some negative play experiences had to go from the game, but PP needs to understand as well that something has to come in return. If factions like Cryx and Legion are being forced to play the game like everyone else, then they need the tools to do so. That means that brave choices need to be made, and that parts7 of these factions need a complete redesign, away from the rules they had in Mk2.
Mk2 is over. Mk2 is history. Why then stick to its legacy?
(1) Example Cygnar – they gunline like the best with Sloan, they control and scenario you from two tables over with Haley2, and they beat face like the best with Stormlances with nobody-cares-what-caster.
(2) Probably Magnus2 fits in there as well, but I haven’t played that matchup yet. I’d prefer to stick to “more or less informed” statements.
(3) It’s not necessarily a bad question to ask, but in an ARM heavy meta, the answer to that question is too often “yes”.
(4) Some would call that: “Ignoring the game rules”
(5) Is that the reason why the new Hordes faction is taking so long to release, and is now being brought to public play test? I’m curious if anyone is going to buy into it now, given the Convergence precedent.
(6) The errata because of inadequate wording notwithstanding, and a few outstanding issues still – the issue around rfp’ing a unit leader comes to mind. It’s been fixed for Revenant Crew, but it’s still a thing for the Krielstone.
(7) For example, Crab jacks could get a real damage grid. So can the Carnivean chassis.